Now is the time to enjoy fresh apples, sweet potatoes, squash of all kinds and pumpkins. Abundant supplies of the freshly harvested fruits and vegetables usually mean that the foods are seasonal and reasonably priced.
Apples truly are one of the season's nutritional bargains — they are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free, high in fiber and low in calories. One medium apple has about 80 calories. You can go to the Maryland Apple Promotion Board (www.marylandapples.org/varieties.htm) for more information about Maryland apple varieties, recipes and locations of Washington County orchards.
Sweet potatoes are another vegetable you can find in the fall. Sweet potatoes have thin skins that dent and bruise easily and should be handled with care. Store them in a cool (55 to 60 degrees), dry place such as a pantry or garage and not in the refrigerator. If stored at too low a temperature, the natural sugars in sweet potatoes turn to starch.
Wait to wash sweet potatoes until ready to cook them. Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, microwaved and even grilled.
To grill sweet potatoes, slice them into rounds about half-inch thick, spray them lightly with vegetable cooking spray, and place them on the grill before the meat. Turn the potatoes once; when fork tender, they're done.
One medium sweet potato has 117 calories; it is naturally sweet and rich in nutrients such as beta-carotene. Though an excellent vegetable, sweet potatoes also lend themselves to puddings, pies, breads and muffins. Go to www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org for the top 10 ways to enjoy sweet potatoes.
Fall squashes, including butternut and acorn squash, should also be abundant at fall markets. The squash will vary in size and shape, but generally are low in calories and fat, and easy to bake and serve. Go to recipefinder.nal.usda.gov and search for healthful, tasty squash recipes.
Farmers markets are likely to have pumpkins in all sizes and shapes. Although many of us use the pumpkins for holiday decorations, there are varieties that can be cut, seeded and cooked as a vegetable or made into puddings and pies, breads, cakes or muffins.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables available at the fall farmers' markets vary weekly, but that's even more reason to go regularly. Shopping the local markets can be social and educational. You can speak with growers and ask questions. Go to www.marylandsbest.net for information on the local producers and markets where you can purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Prices on the seasonal foods are comparable to those sold in the produce sections of supermarkets, but fruits and vegetables sold at farmers markets usually are just-picked and flavor-fresh. There has been little, if any, time delay in transporting the locally grown foods. Buy local, eat local.